A Serendipitous Journey!

My entry into the realm of genealogy / family history research started many years ago with two very determined purposes. I wanted to learn about my dad's family and I wanted to learn about my maternal Grandma's family. Both were going to be the dickens to trace and even as a newbie I knew I had my work cut out for me! It's been a long journey - a prosperous one - full of many miracles I like to say arise from serendipity. I hope you'll enjoy my musings and meanderings.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

My Dad's Birthday

Today was my dad's birthday.  It's always a time when I muse about the things he did in his short life, the things he missed and how important it was to me to learn his birthdate.

In his short life (he didn't reach the age of 30) he married twice and fathered four children - one of whom died after three months.  He enjoyed great happiness and experienced tremendous grief.  He was the President of his high school Rifle Club.  He was a member of the Latin club.  He graduated high school.  (That might not sound like a great accomplishment but in my family it is.)  He became a carpenter following in his father's footsteps.  He also was a member of the National Guard.  He was a marksman of great ability.  He won many medals both as a civilian and as a member of the military.  He placed sixth in the nation in a National Guard shooting competition.  I know from his military records and the child support stubs in his wallet the day he drowned (and from everything I've heard from everyone who knew him) that he was a man who took his responsibilities seriously.  He was a man who loved to race jalopies.  He loved to laugh and have fun and go fishing.  He was a man who would sacrifice his own life for someone else.  He did that when he drowned.  He also did that when my mom's house burned down when she was a preteen.  He rushed in with a water hose and tried to fight the fire.  That's when they met.  His two greatest loves (according to his widow) were the Church and his kids.  I spent years imagining what he would be like.  I never had him as a rotten bum in my dreams.  lol  Amazingly he exceeded everything I had imagined and dreamed about.  

The list of what he missed would be endless.  He missed his three surviving children growing up and getting married and having kids and grandkids.  Yes, he missed becoming a grandfather and a great grandfather.  He missed the weddings.  He missed the his son going off to the VietNam war.  As a man who loved the military I know he would have been really proud.  He missed graduations.  He missed seeing the success of his kids.  I can imagine him beaming with pride.  I have felt him with me all my life and I definitely felt him with me the day I discovered River Portal.  He missed all of the discoveries I made about him and his heritage and his ancestors........or did he????  

There were decades of my life when I had no information about him beyond his name and the cause of his death.  I didn't know any dates.  That makes it really hard to start out in genealogy research.  Learning his birthdate gives me two days a year to honor him but it also gave me a step further in the genealogy journey.  It allowed me to obtain his birth certificate.  That was a big milestone.   

I'm more grateful than words can say that I was blessed to have a Daddy like mine!  Happy Birthday, Daddy!  

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Working in the Dark Ages

Sometimes I forget what research was like waaaaaaay back in the beginning.  There was a time of no computers except the one you could occasionally get your hands on at a library.  When I started doing research I didn't know how to use a computer and the most confounding thing in the world was the mouse!  I literally couldn't figure out how to use a mouse and there were times when people would show me (very quickly) how to use one and then leave the room.  There I'd be sitting alone trying to push the middle button and evenutally breaking down into tears.  

In those days there was genealogical information on CDs.  Most people couldn't afford to have a whole set of those CDs.  They were lucky if they had any libraries in the area that had bought the CDs and made them accessible to their patrons.  There were also the LDS research sites.  The LDS deserve much credit for all they've done over the years to attain and provide genealogical data.  Back then there were a lot of family trees available on those CDs that was very often inaccurate.  People had to provide family trees to the LDS and they often didn't care to get the facts straight.  Those were days of nightmares.  People would find what they thought were legitimate connections and everyone it seemed connected back to some kind of royalty way back in the days of yore.  I'm guilty.  I printed out endless pages of my supposed ancestry.  I get very embarrassed when I think back to those days but I know I wasn't the first or the last to make that mistake.  

I lived in a perfect area for doing early research - Virginia.  Many, many families came into America through Virginia.  I would go through every library I could get to in a driving area and one by one I'd go through books and look to see if any of my surnames were covered.  I did make some discoveries but mostly I wasted my time.  I wasn't going about it the right way.  I was trying to get the end product and quickly.  I had a lot of family pressure on me as well because some in the family wanted to claim membership in Native American tribes and they would hound me to death to try to find a way.

Only when I shut out the voices of the family and the desire to get to the end before working from the beginning did I begin to make progress.  I learned that the best way is to start with what you know and work back from there one step at a time.  

Other things that are helpful when beginning are genealogical societies - where you are and in the areas you're researching.  You can often find helpful genealogists who will do research for you for a nominal fee.  They can check old newspapers, court records, cemetery records and much more.  I owe a great deal to those wonderful researchers!

One thing many people did back in those days was to write to anyone with the same surname in the area they were researching.  There was always a chance of making a connection - and many did.  I didn't utilize that approach because at that time I didn't know what surnames I needed to research.  I would have been absolutely thrilled to have had family to turn to at that time - the kind of family who knew the answers I didn't know.  I can't imagine myself EVER turning away from any family who could provide information.  

The world has changed a lot since I started doing family history research.  People have gotten spoiled by being able to get on the internet and find a lot of info just waiting there for them.  Many take what they find and run and never give back.  It always shocks me to come into contact with actual family members and know that I have information that would help them and they flat don't even want contact.  They don't know what they're throwing away when they do that.  Just because they found a bit on the internet it doesn't mean they should put themselves on a pedastal and look down on anyone else doing research.  Think of all they miss........

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Branching Out

Branching out on my genealogy journey was like everyone else's.  You realize where the graphs come from that you've seen drawing out other people's family trees.  One name quickly turns into three.  One path quickly turns into three.  You have the original person plus the parents and now you're off and chasing new clues down new lines.  You're branching out!  Personally I felt quite scholarly!  (And very, very lucky!) 

It's important to document sources and to keep these people organized in some fashion.  This is your foundation.  Everything on this line starts from here and builds on the initial information.  

I researched how to obtain birth certificates for the three people I was now following.  I got my dad's from Idaho.  I got a great genealogy society to help me for a nominal fee in Montana and they sent me not only my grandmother's birth certificate but all of her siblings as well!  I've truly been blessed on this journey!  

Next major brick wall - how to get a birth certificate from Ireland???  Wow!  I was already stumped!  I didn't have a birth place other than Ireland.  Hmmmm.....

I read tips from other genealogists and found out that I could obtain Social Security Administration Applications.  I got my dad's and his dad's.  That was pretty awesome!  I got to see my dad's handwriting for the first time!  He was 16.  Funny what something as simple as handwriting can do to move your heart!  On my grandpa's (he had now become my grandpa lol) he listed his birth place as Belfast.  Eureka!  A home town!  Maybe I could do something with that!  I researched and found out about a company that would obtain an Irish birth certificate for a fee (a little more than I had hoped to spend but I needed it). 

They came back to me with the news that they couldn't find it.  I was desperate and determined and a stubborn fight came into me that just wouldn't let go.  I made my case and I made some threats.  They looked more - using the date not the place - and they found it!  He hadn't been born in Belfast!  I may never know why he said he was but at last the mystery was solved!  He had been born in a little town in County Down, Northern Ireland.  County Down?!  I'd heard of County Down!  Who hasn't heard that sweet little ditty about the "Star of the County Down"?  I was doing cartwheels (figuratively speaking of course).  When I received it and held it in my hands I thought it was the greatest document ever!  

Birth certificates are sooooo important!  Sometimes death certificates don't have the information you're looking for because they're filled in by people who just didn't know what to put in the blank spaces.  How often genealogists get death certificates that say "Don't Know", "Don't Know" all down the page.  It's very frustrating!  Birth certificates on the other hand are primarily done at the time of the birth by people who definitely know the correct information.  Parents of the child are listed as well as their ages and occupations.  My three people became seven!  I had my dad, his parents and each of their parents!  My tree was growing!  I love when trees branch out!   

Friday, January 30, 2015

Back to the Beginning......

Genealogy / Family History Research can be a daunting task to begin no matter how much knowledge you already have but when you really don't have any it's even more difficult.  I know. That's how I started.  I had my dad's name.  I didn't have a birth date or a death date.  I was told he had drowned when I was 6 months old.  I was actually two years old.  So where to start?  

Let me back up a bit first and say that when I decided to start this journey I was living far away from my home state.  I hadn't lived there in many years.  I couldn't just pick up and go back either.  Money was a bit scarce for luxuries like that.  I married into the military and as a military wife I enjoyed many privileges but money wasn't really one of them.  I had to enlist the aid of someone who didn't mind doing research for free.  Luckily one of my many siblings didn't mind the task.  I was very blessed by that dear brother!

When I advise people now about where to start I always tell them to start with what they know.  Don't rely on family oral history.  Too often it proves just off the mark - or WAY off the mark.  Don't try to jump to the end.  If you start out trying to prove your Native American ancestry and you attempt to jump straight into membership in a tribe - you're most likely going to be disappointed.  That's the number one thing I've seen people try to do.  Being Native American is a wonderful thing.  I believe I am and someday I'll save up some change and get a DNA test.  My point is that if you start with what you know and work from there you'll find whatever it is you find.  You'll enjoy the journey more even if it takes longer.  If you check and double check your work you'll know you got it as correct as you could and who knows what wonderful things you'll discover along the way that you might have missed?  Don't rely on published books or online family trees!  Just don't do it!  Most of us who have been doing genealogy for a long time will have made that mistake.  People often put together trees not checking for facts - just adding for the sake of having a lot of numbers in their trees.  They often merge trees with families that aren't part of their own.  They publish books with this misinformation and people come along and read it and copy it and justify as "it was in a book".  Ugh!  That doesn't make it correct.  

What did I start out knowing?  My dad's name.  I couldn't get a death certificate based on that.  I needed the date of death.  My dear brother went to the library in that town and looked through microfilm and got the date of death.   I was already way ahead of where I'd been!  

With that death date I was able to pay a fairly small amount of money and obtain his death certificate.  I didn't realize what a wealth of information it would be!  I was learning on my own as I went.  That death certificate gave me his date and place of birth.  It gave me his parents' names and ages.  It gave me the cemetery where he was buried.  I learned that he wasn't born in Oregon.  He was born in Idaho.  I learned his mom was born in Montana.  (I had lived there during two separate military assignments and not known I had any connections to the state.)  I also learned one of the most important things to me because it ties me to my dad & his family in a way I can't even put into words.  I learned that his dad was born in IRELAND.  Wow!  I had known my dad had chosen my name.  Now I knew why my middle name is Colleen.  When you have nothing to start with that's a lot of information from one simple document!  

What did I do next?  Read the next entry to find out.  :)